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Hurricanes have options on blue line after major offseason additions

August 19, 2023, 8:21 PM ET [1 Comments]
Ben Shelley
Carolina Hurricanes Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
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Every summer, the Carolina Hurricanes seem to pull off a few clever, unexpected moves to improve their roster.

Last year, it was Max Pacioretty and Brent Burns. Then this year, the team brought in Michael Bunting and Dmitry Orlov in free agency. I’ve already gone into detail about the decision to sign Bunting and what kind of value he can provide, which can be viewed here:

- ARTICLE: How will Michael Bunting fit with the Hurricanes?

Orlov, on the other hand, may have been the best free agent defenseman available.

Despite now being 32 years old, Orlov is still capable of taking on a huge role and yielding strong results. This past season, the defenseman averaged over 22 minutes per game and posted 36 points in 66 games between his time with the Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins, all while facing a high quality of competition.

I don’t think the strength of the contract can be underestimated, either. I had projected Orlov’s contract to come in with more term, but a lower cap hit and the article can be viewed below:

- ARTICLE: Projecting Dmitry Orlov’s next contract

Getting Orlov on a short-term deal, the Hurricanes paid a little bit more to forgo a lengthy pact. Given the defenseman is now into his mid-30s and the Hurricanes have cap space available, it made a lot of sense to bring him in for two seasons as the team is trying to win, but steering clear of taking more risk with a longer contract and planning for the fact that Orlov could face a decline.

Joining the Hurricanes’ blue line, Orlov essentially replaces Shayne Gostisbehere and Calvin de Haan, who took on third-pairing minutes last year. That isn’t to say Orlov will only take on an equivalent role, but just that the rest of the defense group remains intact.

However, complicating things a bit was the second notable addition to the team’s blue line, in Tony DeAngelo. After the initial trade with the Philadelphia Flyers fell through, and the Flyers resorted to a buyout instead, Carolina brought back DeAngelo on a one-year deal worth $1.68 million.

While DeAngelo has his flaws, he can still be a high-end offensive defenseman, capable of putting up huge numbers. We’ve also seen first-hand through his first stint in Carolina how successful he can be when paired with a reliable defenseman.

So just with DeAngelo, the Hurricanes already had seven NHL defenders available. The team didn’t stop there, though, signing Caleb Jones to a one-year contract a week ago.

While Jones is going to have a hard time getting into action on Carolina’s crowded blue line, he still averaged more than 19 minutes of ice time across 73 games with the Blackhawks last season and remains a viable option to slot in when needed.

This also isn’t even factoring in Dylan Coghlan, who was basically a mainstay on Carolina’s roster last season, despite getting into limited action.

So after the additions of Orlov, DeAngelo and Jones, here’s what the team’s defense group looks like, as of now.

Slavin - Burns
Skjei - Pesce
Orlov - Chatfield
Jones - DeAngelo

It’s certainly a possibility the Hurricanes could go with this group, to basically put forward three reliable pairings. At that point, perhaps we see the team carry eight defensemen to start the year, sending down Coghlan. Who knows whether Chatfield or DeAngelo spends more time in the lineup, though.

Especially after adding Gostisbehere at the deadline last year, Carolina’s defense group really didn’t have any holes, but their third pairing was a little more sheltered, given it was made up of a offensive defenseman, and a player who was still fairly new to the NHL. If Orlov is swapped in on the bottom pairing, the team would be able to play any pairing in almost any situation.

We could also see the pairs mixed up as a result of the Orlov addition, though. While it’s unlikely the team would break up Slavin and Burns, given how well their play styles meshed and their success this past season, it’s possible we could see Orlov playing with Pesce and Skjei moved down to play with Chatfield.

However, given all the additions, perhaps the most likely scenario at this point is Carolina trading off one of their blue liners.

Skjei and Pesce will be free agents in one year and while the Hurricanes have changed their narrative on being able to retain top players, Don Waddell has also been very cautious in giving out long-term contracts.

With Pesce’s name finding its way into trade rumblings, it’s possible we see the Hurricanes look to get some value for him, if they decide an extension isn’t going to be attainable. If this is the case, the Orlov signing presents as even more of an important addition, providing the team with the option to move Pesce without their blue line taking a huge hit from what we saw last year.

If Pesce was moved, the Hurricanes will recoup some great assets, while still being able to roll out an elite defense group, looking something like this:

Slavin - Burns
Orlov - DeAngelo
Skjei - Chatield
Jones - Coghlan

With Chatfield emerging as a reliable, shutdown defender, it’s hard to argue that there are really any holes at all in Carolina’s blue line, even without Pesce.

So we’ll see where the team goes from here. Pesce would be turning 30 years old in the first year of his next contract, and given he’s likely to receive a long-term extension, the Hurricanes would be risking a decline for the player midway through the contract. With an elite defense group even without Pesce in the mix, it seems like moving him now makes a lot of sense.

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